OCEANSIDE — Four medical marijuana dispensaries were recently served notices to close their doors because they each lacked a business license. Business operators said city-zoning rules that do not list medical marijuana dispensaries as viable businesses make their businesses ineligible to exist.
The city was in ongoing negotiations with the North County Collective when, in what many consider bad faith, it served notices to the medical marijuana dispensaries to close immediately. Businesses and property owners can face fines of up to $25,000 a day if they do not comply.
One of the four dispensaries has already shut its doors. The other businesses have the choice to appeal or shut down.
Assistant city attorney Annie Perrigo said a business that is given notice to close could request a zoning text amendment and petition for a business license, but none of the marijuana dispensaries have done so. The city is concerned marijuana dispensaries are not playing by the rules.
“It’s a good idea to try to go through legal steps before opening a business,” Perrigo said.
Attorney Philip Ganong, who represents ABACA Medical Collective that formerly operated in Oceanside, said the business was stonewalled at every turn when it tried to obtain a license.
A two-year moratorium for the city to look into the matter of how to best regulate medical marijuana dispensaries recently expired. No practices were recommended.
“Since the moratorium expired the city refused to issue any business licenses within the city limits of Oceanside,” Ganong said.
The option to request a zoning text amendment in order to obtain a business license will cost ABACA $5,800.
“ABACA would like to do that, but they need to raise the money with the understanding Oceanside staff would not recommend it.”
A “no recommendation” from city staff means approval of a business license is unlikely.
There is further city concern that many medical marijuana dispensaries are more focused on selling marijuana than serving patients. Perrigo said the four businesses that were given notice to close are storefronts, not patient cooperatives.
“We’re not enforcing and trying to shut down cooperative or collective operations,” Perrigo said. “We’re not trying to stop mobile delivery services.”
To ease concerns, there are health and safety codes in place that set standards for how medical marijuana dispensaries should operate. These health codes can be adopted to help regulate marijuana dispensaries, but they have not been adopted by Oceanside.
“We are the only industry that says regulate us, tax us,” Lisa Carpenter, former operator of Coastal Patient Services in Vista, said. “We want to be nonprofits and contribute to the community.”
Marijuana has a long history that some think clouds present judgment. Recreation use of marijauna became illegal in the 1930s just as the prohibition on alcohol was repealed. “They (medical marijuana dispensaries) are closed because of systemic bigotry and prejudicial bias reflected in 80 years of brainwashing about cannabis in general,” Ganong said.
Medical marijuana became legal in California in 1996, but not everyone supports its use or local distribution.
“I do not want them (medical marijuana dispensaries) here in our town,” Mayor Jim Wood said. “Not everyone is in there for medical reasons. I am not very supportive after working in law enforcement all those years and seeing the negative effects of marijuana on individuals and families.”
Advocates of medical marijuana dispensaries want to provide services to North County residents.
“Patients should be able to make their own decisions,” Carpenter said. “They should have a right to access their choice of medicine.”
Many patients prefer medical marijuana to stronger synthetic drugs to relieve pain, reduce nausea and lessen anxiety.
“Cannabis is a natural herb that properties are not well understood,” Ganong said.
In order to obtain medical marijuana a patient needs a doctor’s recommendation. Doctors do not prescribe marijuana because the drug is illegal under federal law. This practice clouds the recommendation that marijuana is medically needed.
Currently there are few local sources where North County patients to get medical marijuana. The cities of San Marcos and Vista have also taken action to enforce zoning codes and close medical marijuana dispensaries.
“They closed us down yesterday,” a former medical marijuana operator in Vista said. “San Marcos, Oceanside, Vista all did the same thing the same day. It was pretty much coordinated. They hit every dispensary.”
“Cities are just saying no to storefront medical marijuana facilities,” Carpenter said. “There is a stigma attached they need to get past.”
There are still door-to-door delivery services patients can access. Operators say these services are becoming overwhelmed with demands because of closures of marijuana dispensaries in North County.
The next step for medical marijuana dispensary operators may be to challenge the zoning code or collectively petition to get an initiative on an upcoming ballot and let local voters decide.